“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Last week I wrote about something that really disturbs me; news coverage, and I tried to explain why we shouldn’t believe everything we read, see or hear
in the media – and why it’s a good idea to take a break from the news every once in a while so that when we return we will have a better chance of reading between the lines.
I come back to that topic every now an then because I agree with the basic sentiment expressed in the Franklin D. Roosevelt quote I stuck at the top of this piece.
The former US president used the line in his inaugural address in 1933 when western countries were bogged down in the great depression but before they had committed themselves to fighting World War II to revive their economies. I don’t think FDR was saying there is nothing to worry about; he was just pointing out that being afraid doesn’t help sort anything and it usually makes things much worse.
Anyway, I thought I’d got that ‘news being used to create an atmosphere of fear’ pet peeve out of my system for a year or two, but last Sunday I left the TV on after watching the football highlights on Match of the Day and the lead story that followed on the BBC newscast got me going again. Here’s a condensed version of that report:
The Ministry of Defence is considering placing surface-to-air missiles on residential flats during the Olympics. An east London estate, where 700 people live, has received leaflets saying a “Higher Velocity Missile system” could be placed on a water tower…
The MoD says in the leaflet that the missiles will not pose a hazard to residents and “will only be authorised for active use following specific orders from the highest levels of government in response to a confirmed and extreme security threat”. The document states: “Having a 24/7 Armed Forces and police presence will improve your local security and will not make you a target for terrorists.
That should calm everyone’s fears.
Maybe it just me, but I have the feeling it would have been better to keep the national security plans as secret as possible both to reduce public anxiety and to…well, to make it a bit more difficult for anyone who wants to fly a plane into the Olympic Stadium. Better, that is, if the objective was to keep the nation safe during the games.
If, on the other hand, the main objective was to justify the defence budget and maybe even get the public to demand – and pay for – even greater security spending, then it would make sense to handle this situation pretty much the way the government and the media have handled it.
Of course this doesn’t mean newsmen are conspiring to create public fear; it’s just that scary news sells so they are easy to manipulate.
What’s that? You think I’m being paranoid?
You’re probably right, but if I am, at least that allows me to end this column with a quote from another American president, Richard Nixon, who pointed out:
“The fact that you are paranoid does not prove that they are not out to get you.”